Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013.12.13 Happy New Year!

 Everything New

I want to be here
just with you
we two.
That’s what olding peeps do,
is it not?
As they wait for the chicken pot pie
to stew
and gaze at their tiny fake tree, red
and blue,
Then make a salad, green, fresh
and new.
I love you my love
they say with their eyes
while young TV celebrants
hug, hop and hoot
for everything new, everything new—
we too.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

2013.12.29 The Lord of Misrule

Images of the Lord of Misrule: unruly, wild—lush with arch abandon, and deliciously out of bounds.

We Christians think of Lord as THE Lord, the one we call Jesus Christ. The ancient East thought of Lord as Emperor, the Caesar to be obeyed and worshiped. But have you ever thought of Lord as multiple? Well, of course not, but why not? The face of God in human form is embossed on all life—even fools. It’s the message of Christmas. It’s incarnation, you fool!

In medieval England the twelve days of Christmas were sovereigned by the Lord of Misrule, the pagan god of mischief and fun.  It was a time dedicated to merriment, a time for frolic and fun, to make friends not foes, to feast not fast—a time for smile not snark.  

In short, go wild.  Hurt no one. Love everyone—everything take into your heart for warmth and sweet home where all wild things dwell in peace. Which, after all, are the most prolific and the most alluring of flowers?  Those that grew on the side of the road, those that children are allowed to pick at will, just for fun to make their bouquets—because they are unimportantly wild.

Be wild, O my soul, for the source of Wonder;
let all your insides praise God’s Holy Name.
Be wild, O my soul, for the source of Wonder
who leads you into life.

            (paraphrase, Psalm 103, Greenberg translation)

For the curious: 1. The green smily-looking balls are ballistic bath bombs, slow fizzers that when immersed in your bath water fizzle and moisturize your skin while emitting a mysterious scent of vanilla and gardenia.   2. The couple dancing in inverted postures are losing their heads, reversing even bodily rectitude.   (I wonder if this is what a reaction to the good news of divine love all round might have been like?) 

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

2013.12.15 Christmas

"This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria..........."  So began the Christmas gospel, this year from Luke, telling the story of how Mary, pregnant with Jesus, and Joseph had to travel to their native town of Bethlehem to be registered for taxation. While there, something happened..........

This year, perhaps for the first time, Syria jumped out at me, a small part of the grand story. Syria in the midst of bombings, strife and civil war. I remember when we were in Israel in 2012 and we stood on a ridge overlooking the land so barren.  Our professor pointed to some mountains  in the distance and said, "That's Syria."

Syria not Bethlehem became the focus of my prayers. She is why God keeps on trying, in so many ways, to draw our attention to Love not War. 

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

2013.12.24 Nativity Eve

The image of Snowy seemed a fitting image for Nativity Eve.  At least it’s better than a stork or even the traditional dove!   I might have used the traditional creche image of Jesus surrounded by love and dung in a manger, but Snowy represents divine labor—the movement just before birth, into life. 

How would you image such a mystery as the very soul of Divinity arriving from the god-knows-where place we call “heaven” to roost in human flesh? 

The great swooping snowy owl has power, an enormous wing spread, golden eyes centered and focused with so much intensity it’s frightening—and what looks like a goofy smily face. Really!

I imagine that this was the kind of look I had on my face in the moment of birthing my first daughter, the moment when everything changed. After long hours of ongoing painful contractions going nowhere I felt quite desperate and powerless. Then it happened, the phase I call the big push. My uterus came alive, woke up from its droning labor and began to help me. Together we pushed.

It didn’t take long. With a little assistance from cheerleading nurses and a doctor pulling with what looked like tongs (poor little child) my daughter came into her own life. All pain swept away and I grinned at the wondrous gift of a girl, also at the natural power in my body, power I’d never known was there, Snowy power.

God the Creator must have felt like this, I thought—such a mighty effort, such a stupendous effort to potentiate a whole cosmos of teeming life, such tender exertion to break into each tiny infant body. There is not a single living thing that goes unaffected by Her labor into birth.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

2013.12.22 What Are You Looking For?

I’ve followed many a shiny star
into many a stinking stable
to find it
Leaving, I look back—
A streak of light
on a strand of straw
bids me stop,
The spiritual power of seeking is in the search itself more than it is in the finding, especially when you stop seeking because you imagine you must have definitive answers.

Actually, the finding is in the seeking—for why would you seek for something unless you'd already experienced it in some small way and found it desirable? 

In Advent we long for Christmas and dream of sugar plums and the shiny new whatever we think will satisfy our heart's desires. Christmas comes and we get that gift. Alas, soon we are full of longing and seeking once again. What for?

What's the point? My dad used to say this all the time. Once I tried to answer his burning question and found myself tangled up in feckless theological platitudes.

Is it all a vain search for ineffable mystery? Yes, but look again anyway and never stop.

No desiring is in vain and all who seek find something—something.  

Sunday, December 15, 2013

2013.12.15 His Day Is Done

His Day is Done by Dr. Maya Angelou

His day is done.
Is done.
The news came on the wings of a wind, reluctant to carry its burden.
Nelson Mandela’s day is done.
The news, expected and still unwelcome, reached us in the United States, and suddenly our world became somber.  Our skies were leadened.

His day is done.
We see you, South African people standing speechless at the slamming of that final door through which no traveler returns.  Our spirits reach out to you Bantu, Zulu, Xhosa, Boer.
We think of you and your son of Africa, your father, your one more wonder of the world.

We send our souls to you as you reflect upon your David armed with a mere stone, facing down the mighty Goliath.

Your man of strength, Gideon, emerging triumphant.

Although born into the brutal embrace of Apartheid, scarred by the savage atmosphere of racism, unjustly imprisoned in the bloody maws of South African dungeons.

Would the man survive? Could the man survive?

His answer strengthened men and women around the world.

In the Alamo, in San Antonio, Texas, on the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, in Chicago’s Loop, in New Orleans Mardi Gras, in New York City’s Times Square, we watched as the hope of Africa sprang through the prison’s doors.

His stupendous heart intact, his gargantuan will hale and hearty.10

He had not been crippled by brutes, nor was his passion for the rights of human beings diminished by twenty-seven years of imprisonment.

Even here in America, we felt the cool, refreshing breeze of freedom.

When Nelson Mandela took the seat of Presidency in his country where formerly he was not even allowed to vote we were enlarged by tears of pride, as we saw Nelson Mandela’s former prison guards invited, courteously, by him to watch from the front rows his inauguration.

We saw him accept the world’s award in Norway with the grace and gratitude of the Solon in Ancient Roman Courts, and the confidence of African Chiefs from ancient royal stools.

No sun outlasts its sunset, but it will rise again and bring the dawn.

Yes, Mandela’s day is done, yet we, his inheritors, will open the gates wider for reconciliation, and we will respond generously to the cries of Blacks and Whites, Asians, Hispanics, the poor who live piteously on the floor of our planet.

He has offered us understanding.
We will not withhold forgiveness even from those who do not ask.
Nelson Mandela’s day is done, we confess it in tearful voices, yet we lift our own to say
thank you.

Thank you our Gideon, thank you our David, our great courageous man.

We will not forget you, we will not dishonor you, we will remember and be glad that you lived among us, that you taught us, and that you loved us all.


                                                                   * * * *
I've often compared the late Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy to the biblical David as Maya Angelou has compared Nelson Mandela to King David of Ancient Israel. Neither Kennedy and Mandela had smooth personal lives, yet both overrode their troubles to become political heroes and liberators of their times.

The biblical David was the youngest son of a large family, chosen by God for a role in moving the people of Israel from nomadic tribe to a settled monarchical state. David put Israel on the map and is still a revered hero representing the heroism of his people. King David is even considered a model for the kingship of Christ—inauspicious beginnings and troubles all along the way to the end, yet keeping faith in God's faith.

King David headed up one of the most dysfunctional families in biblical narrative, was a womanizer,  adulterer, coward, and murderer—and darn near got killed by his own son Absalom.  He was also merciful to his predecessor King Saul, wrote and chanted beautiful psalms, and died a very old man (in real time) tended by an “exceedingly beautiful” young virgin named Abishag, with whom he “did not have relations.” No senior sex for this king.



Of course all we have is the ancient story and no historical proof as we so would so love today, however the story stands, its own witness to amazing spiritual biography and transcendent wisdom.

Comparisons are odious but making connections can be healing, enlarging of soul. When a faith story or a poem pull back the zoom lens, light comes in, and enough light forestalls judgment. It becomes almost impossible to stay fixated on either the righteous side or the sinful side of a human being, or an issue when you see it all. Extremism loses its heft. Call it a God’s eye view.

We do not forget people who are authentic saint/sinners. They are just like us—dearly beloved fools.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

2013.12.10 When Tragedy Rends the Heart

When tragedy rends hearts there is little else to do but cry, pray anyway, and love without reserve.
This is Riley. She is six years old, in first grade, the daughter of friends of one of our children.  She has brain cancer, a cancer so aggressive and widespread that doctors at Boston Childrens' Hospital have said there is nothing more that can be done. Riley's parents are in shock, their pain almost too much to bear. Their only goal is to keep Riley as free of pain as possible and happy.  They love her to death.

People ask religious, spiritual questions at these times.  Of course we do. We want to know if there is a God who can help change what has happened.  Many conclude that there is no God, only human love.  That is true, but then God IS human love.  I can say by faith and experience that God's love  is limitless and eternal. It is God's power that is limited so we can be fully free. It is not God's love that is limited. In fact the divine heart itself is the first to break open, God's tears the first to fall.

Riley and her family face the likelihood of death. Hope calls for a miracle quite naturally, But whatever happens Riley will not be alone but surrounded by love also, in the words of a hymn:
Love Divine, All Loves Excelling."

Sunday, December 8, 2013

2013.12.08 Advent: Mixed Grace IS Grace

Grace has lots of meanings and even more interpretations —a dancer’s movements, a prayer before a meal, a royal title like Your Grace the bishop of Switherington, time allowed to pay a debt, the equivalent of teacher’s pet (in her good graces), tiny notes that embellish an already darn good melody, Grace Kelly, and Gracie Storrs.

Gracie Storrs was the eleven year old girl who introduced me to the F word, without telling me what it meant—exactly. Immediately I asked my mother who paid swift attention to me, which I loved. She asked me who told me that word. Gracie, I said, and she said, Oh, Gracie, well then it’s a Gracie word. I came away still not knowing what F meant but in awe of Gracie’s power and henceforth without fear of F or other alleged tabus. 

My least favorite definition of grace is popular jargon: There but for the grace of God go I.  People sling this spiritual hash all the time. But think!  What kind of God is presented here?  Hint: your tumor turns up benign, but your roommate’s is malignant. So which of you is the grace-recipient? Really. Thank God because it’s the prayer of your soul and you can’t help it, but for God’s sake don’t sling hash—or even think it.

My favorite definition of grace is experiential. It came from a favorite seminary professor, Luke Timothy Johnson. He taught a course in which all we had to do was attend his lectures and then write in our journals about how we experienced big theological words, like grace, sin, holy, faith, idolatry. We signed up like ants to a blob of spilled honey. The course became a blockbuster—not because of it’s name, “Christian Existence as Life in the Spirit,” or Johnson's popularity, but because there was no reading! Nevertheless........such alleged gut courses actually have guts.We soon learned Whose life  we would be asked to directly experience in our flesh,  and then write our “scriptures.” 

This “gut” course re-rooted me in the God I’d first met as a child, the God who gave me “unconditional positive regard,” a term I grew to detest when I was in training as a counselor. We called it UPR. Psychologist Carl Rogers thought counselors should adapt UPR toward clients. We trainees all began to look and sound like puffy pink blobs of cotton candy. We sugarcoated without condition every ounce of client flesh. No human person worth her sinfulness can do that. (Later even Rogers got wise and removed the “positive” from his definition.)

Still, doesn't Carl look unconditionally
regarding?  Yet only Godde can do UPR grace.

Here's how Professor Johnson defined UPR grace:  an inward experience of being known and loved—at the same time. When have you experienced that?  I wrote about orgasmic sex, embodied UPR, a grace in which self and other merge so you never give a thought to being known/knowing/being loved/loving. I’d never coupled God and sex so explicitly before.

Recently, I came across another definition of grace. I like this definition because it is a merger, this time of alleged opposites. The quote is footnoted in William Countryman’s book Living On the Border of the Holy. Renewing the Priesthood of All, 1999, one of the supplemental texts for EfM.  Countryman is an Episcopal priest, professor of New Testament at the Church Divinity School of the Pacific in Berkeley, CA. and a prolific author. Good gay guy scholar.

The question Countryman posed was: does the church institutional have value? YES, as both lay and ordained live the good news proclaimed and embodied by Jesus. BUT only if it the church functions aware of its limitations and with modesty. In this context he quotes Christopher Morse, Not Every Spirit: A Dogmatics of Christian Disbelief, 1994. Love that title.

“That the treasure of God’s grace reaches us surrounded by garbage will not seem surprising to anyone who is personally familiar with life in the church   . . . Grace comes to us, so Martin Luther argues, hidden sub contrario, ‘beneath its opposite.’  From this perspective, any idealized view of the church as only treasure is as faulty a vision of reality as any cynical view that the church is only garbage. Mangers, by definition, are found where there is manure.” 

So we’re back to Gracie and the F word and my conviction that nothing is outside the purview of divine grace even if you have to look sub contrario. 


Sunday, December 1, 2013

2013.12.01 Wait-and-See Advent

Outside the church we are already commercially and spiritually focused on Christmas and its trappings. In this age of instant everything many of us are conditioned NOT to wait.  I get cross with my computer if it doesn’t pop into action at my touch. I can’t wait.

The comic strip, “Heart of the City,” features a kicky little girl who protests to a local store owner about Christmas paraphernalia on display even before Thanksgiving arrives. Heart carries placards, bravely pickets the store, and argues with its owner. She loses the battle to commerce, but wins the war. Few miss the point:

In our haste to get to the “good part” are we not missing the “best part?”

I remember my anticipation as a child. The baited breath suspense of Advent was as full of new life as Nativity. Waiting built up the Spirit, made Santa Claus, also Jesus,  all the more wondrous, and gifts all the more delightful when they came, even if they weren’t exactly what we wanted. 

Advent was the best part simply because as its days grew shorter and darker the world around lit up. Both darkness and light happened simultaneously. At the same time!  It made my eyes pop with awe.  I awaited the dark with as much eagerness as I did the light.

I feel it as an adult too. I don’t complain when days get dark early, unless it’s just to join the chorus of grumbling I hear all around me. But deep inside me I feel oddly comforted when we pull shades before 5 pm and turn on lights, maybe slide the thermostat up a tiny bit.  It’s cozy; it’s hearth; it’s holing in for the evening.

Advent is the interior season, the safe-and-warm-inside season— prayer, softness, dim glow, the color purple-blue, quiet womb, wait 'n see.

Yet in Advent I always think more about homeless people in this season. I don’t wait for Christmas to see Jesus in church pageants.  I see christs on the streets slumped against buildings, huddled in blankets, asleep on benches, sometimes mumbling thank you.  I can’t make them cozy or warm.

As a young child in the city I’d beg my mother for a nickel to throw in a cup or the bucket of a bell ringer.  Clink!  I’d ask: Why are they sleeping? It’s too cold to sleep outside. Don’t they have beds?  My questions were childish—or were they?  I couldn’t make them cozy and warm.

The Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts has an active street ministry and employs a street priest to celebrate Sunday Eucharist outside on Boston Common and organize pastoral care. This church is called Common Cathedral. Some of my church “taxes”go to the diocese to support this ministry. 

I’ve visited this outside cathedral  and once gave my scarf to a man who looked cold. I admit I felt awkward, guilty, not wanting to be perceived as Lady Bountiful—but also a little scared. I wish I could be brave and easy like street priests, lay and ordained, but I’m not. I wish I could be more externalized, more of an activist, but I’m an indoor priest. I wait, watch and hope with every “advent” bone in my body, through prayer and Christ’s Eucharist meal, that others with more vocational will and guts will take such generosity outside with them. 

There is hope. I just read (Boston Globe 11/29/13) about blanket ministry, administered in part by our Cathedral Church of St. Paul but the brainchild of Boston’s homeless community.  Some foolish christ asked them what they needed. Blankets, they said!! The blankets are folded to the size of a deck of playing cards in a small pouch. They are silver Mylar space blankets—extremely lightweight and very warm, the kind worn by astronauts and marathoners after a race. Inexpensive too!

You need something warm while you wait outside for a home inside.

The precious blankets are not distributed from shelters or agencies but by volunteers who have been homeless on and off themselves. Over 8000 blankets have been purchased and sent to St. Paul’s. The homeless christ-priests recognize their own on the streets, pull a small blanket pouch out of their backpack, and hand it out—sort of like Eucharist, a tiny wafer on the tongue or in the hand, blessed, as are the blanket pouches, and distributed. Neither solves life’s many problems nor fills an empty belly, but each helps. Oh, each helps as we wait.

To me the whole city world begins, metaphorically, to look eucharistic, open-hearted giving and receiving —wafers inside, blankets outside—as we wait together, but not precisely for Christ for christ is here in the heart of the city. 



Thursday, November 28, 2013

2013.11.28 Thanksgiving Blessing

May the God of your inner being
most lavishly bless, empower and keep you;
the face of Divinity shine upon you
and from within you today and all days,
and give you peace.

Then, let a spirit of gratitude find room in your heart
so that you will be able to find grace in all things and
a soul enriched..............................
     by the compassion you receive from the warm
faces of neighbors nearby and far away, dead and alive;
    by the hope you receive from
flowers that are buried and waiting
under their incubating white snow comforter;
     by the light you receive from the daily presence
of sun, the nightly presence of stars and moon, the drench of cleansing, quenching rain;
    by the inner strengthening you receive from Jesus Christ, flights of the Holy Spirit, all scriptural wisdom, and all prayers sent to and from you;
    by love— undeserved and deserved— you receive from family and friends
who tolerate your foolish fears and damn-fool actions, anyway;
    by rage enough to create justice, and boundary enough to let go;
    by the faith of God who believes in you, thanks you, and enfolds you in
a wider Love of unconditional acceptance;
    by the uplift of humor you receive whenever the gift of laughter
releases you from the constriction of too much dour solemnity;
    and most of all may by the grace of Godde Eternal
who knows the whole truth and loves you into Life.

If you receive and pass on even half of this gratitude recipe
you will be a blessing now and for ever. 

                Thanksgiving Blessings, 2013

Sunday, November 24, 2013

2013.11.24 Christ in Majesty—Or Married

Officially, the church calendar designates this Sunday as Christ the King, a time for Christians to honor the ultimate reign of God in Christ, a way to remember that ours is a resurrection faith— bursting with hope, for now and for eternity.  (I'd change the masculine nomenclature  of course, but Christ the Queen is, well, maybe OK:0)

The Episcopal Sisters of St. Helena call this Sunday Christ in Majesty, mercifully avoiding exclusively gendered imagery for the risen Christ-Spirit who knows no gender. 

God/Godde is fully male and fully female, and everything in between. To be true to that truth, many things will have to die to clear the way for non-gendered Divinity. Many will be hurt yet many have already been hurt by exclusive language. That's what Christian life is all about: life/death/resurrected life. Death is in the equation.

Dick and I were married on Christ in Majesty Sunday in 1986, 27 years ago.  From the ashes of both of our painful divorces God,working deeply within each soul and all heart, raised up new life hope, another chance, and forgiveness.

We exchanged anniversary cards and messages and felt again how important married love can be.
His card said: "It's so wonderful to be growing and deepening together. Much love to my favorite author on our 27th anniversary." It came to me on line from the “Duke of Cambridge,” latest sobriquet Dick has chosen for himself. The card played jaunty music and showed a couple spatting, making up, sharing tears and lots of laughs as they deepened themselves. Did it make me a “Duchess?” No, but I felt like one.

My card to him congratulated us for winning the woodchuck tango, a flamboyant near-calisthenic dance that requires arithmetic grace we don’t have—nor do woodchucks. Nevertheless...on we go in clumsy majesty. I don't want it ever to die, but................

This Sunday is the last Sunday in the Church year, just before Advent begins and we await, once again, the birth of Jesus at Christmas, thank Godde with no biological pregnancy for me, too old. But we all will be pregnant with Christ. We know the story; we know the familiar cycle; we know the onset of the bleak midwinter darkness, yet each year we are expecting.

What will or must die? Out of what death will God bring new life? 

I’m getting older. I neither expect nor desire to die soon but my death seems more possible, closer.  At a spiritual writing course I recently taught at Grub Street in Boston, we experimented with writing beginnings, middles, and endings. I wrote this as an ending:

At the end of my life I will sit—no, I will probably lie—on a bed, maybe half of the king size bed I’ve shared with Dick. But I will be able to see, even if my eyes are morphine-dazed or cataract-dimmed. My breath will be minimal but present, the spaces between each breath growing shorter and shorter until I am breathed out.  I hope to see the faces of my four children and my grandchildren for a final viewing. I will not tell them not to cry for me. Such a silly commandment really. But I will behold them as I first did, their squished- up, blind-eyed little faces at birth. And maybe I will see Dick too if he is not already dead. I don’t know if I will see him in heaven, wherever that is—or isn’t. But I will end and I will silently sing the words of a hymn I rewrote to fit my lung disease—as a prayer.
    Breathe in me, breathe of God,
    for when my life is done
    and my sweet lungs lose all their power
    my last breath and yours are one.

(Oh, I know I could be struck down tomorrow by any means but this is my foolish little plan. It’s a hope and vision.)

By faith, God will bring some kind of majesty out of my death. I know God will make that new life beautiful, like my new sky-blue earrings—whirly/spinning and cosmic.


Wednesday, November 20, 2013

2013.11.20 Thank You Mr. Lincoln

The famed Gettysburg Address was delivered by America’s 16th President, Abraham Lincoln,   November 19, 1863 at the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

Lincoln’s words remain wise and true, a good example of spiritual writing, not just because he used religious vocabulary, like “consecrate” and “hallow” and "perish,"  but because he went right to the heart and soul of what mattered most to him, personally as the leader of a vast war-torn and bloodied country, but also to Americans whose identity and future depended on keeping alive its founding vision as written in the Declaration of Independence of 1776—87 (four score and seven) years earlier.  

Founding events are important, defining, like the Exodus for Jews, Jesus Christ for Christians, or Muhammed for Islam.  Even individuals have such spiritual touchstones. Mine, as many of you know, was meeting God under the table as a child and learning, unequivocally, that I mattered, no matter what.  What is yours?

Near miraculous to me as a writer is that Lincoln spoke the essence of what mattered in just 272 words!!!  (He'd have loved Twitter.) Oh, envy! I have not a brevity bone in my body, as you can see.  I plan to channel Lincoln as I attempt to get my memoir manuscript’s pages over the transom of a publishing house—in just 250 words. 

When asked in junior high who we thought was the greatest person in the world, I wrote Abraham Lincoln without hesitation.  Later, I felt a twinge of guilt that I hadn’t written Jesus Christ, but I didn’t know him very well yet. Even later, I felt another twinge that I hadn’t written a woman’s name, but all I could think of was Jane Eyre. I suppose therein were planted some early feminist seeds: why were all the upfront famous figures men?  

Lincoln said all men were created equal, as was the linguistic habit of his day. But why couldn’t we just say what we meant? Even at 14 I knew we weren’t all equal. Who lives all the way up to their vision?  We try. Yet I knew from my childhood experience that women were included in the equality vision. Girls mattered to Godde. 

To travel to Gettysburg, Lincoln left a fevered son and a distraught wife. He was exhausted with war, politics and from writing personal letters to everyone who wrote to him in their bereavement.  Then he stayed up all night working on his speech, which he read to a crowd of 20,000 from a single handwritten page. When he finished there was a long silence, followed by thunderous applause. And on the way home he contracted small pox, from which he recovered.

Lincoln was right about the “people.” That day they were the voice; they were the government;  they knew the vision had to prevail And they were the ones, on all sides of the issue, who sacrificed the most for the vision.  The biblical Book of Proverbs proclaims: Without a vision the people perish—all the people.  Lincoln knew that. And Jesus knew that. Both men died for the vision but so far neither our nation not Christianity has perished. It’s close.

I leave you with the words of a great man, and a vision to remember. It’s a prayer. Do you think that if we pray it we will come closer to living it, to uniting under it?  Can we feel compassion—for all?

“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

"Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation, so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

"But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."

Sunday, November 17, 2013

2013.11.17 The Spirituality of Compulsion and Denial —Unlikely Buddies for Good

Denial usually helps me stay blind to household duties like cleaning/dusting and the like. But compulsion kicks in to help me when my denial caves.  Usually serving different purposes, these two mental health culprits occasionally cooperate to create dazzlingly healthy results—near spiritual.
Recently I awoke in a bustley mood, full of energy, rarin’ to go—nowhere in particular.   My husband, Dick, hates my bustley moods because it means he will greet me cheerily in the morning and get no answer—not even a glance, because I’m on the move.

Usually a bustley mood has a compelling focus, almost like a call or an inner commandment.  This day my focus was thick layers of dust on every piece of furniture in sight, the blotches-from-“mars” shining in the sunlight on the bright blue bathroom tile floor, the large swinging cobwebs hanging from the cathedral ceiling, and the tight-woven web of dust swaying in suspension between the baseboard radiator and the neighboring bureau. And I noticed a smudge of blood on the sheet, his side, from a scratched cut of maybe weeks ago. It was, I decided, an infestation of filth— suddenly.

These spectres go ignored by both of us, often for months, except the bathroom crud. I may, from time to time,  pick up little gray hairs, which belong, I decide, to his shedding head not mine, but that’s all. Not today. Off came the sheets, then I dropped to my knees to attack the bathroom floor with a damp sponge. I am Cinderella without a tale of orphaned woe.  

Why are you doing this? he asked..... ( not as politely as I’ve phrased it. )

I don’t know, I said .....(even less politely.)

It’s because you’re nervous about the course you’re teaching tomorrow?  But of all days, Lyn, you don’t have time to clean and why now?? For God’s sake go pray. 

He’s always right about my compulsions, and I get angry at the psychoanalysis. Nevertheless I bustle on, hoping to get two floors done.  

I wasn’t nervous about the course. I was all prepared and confident. So why the Cinderella act? 

Over the vacuum I concluded thus: 1) My natural compulsive energy, sometimes irresistible and always irrational, was driving me; and 2) My denial had caved, unable to manage alone it called for help from a friend. Thus, in one sudden mysterious moment I stopped denying the condition of my surroundings and was given a charge of energy to fix the situation and reset the denial for its next tour of duty :0)   The results will last for a good while.

I know not why this rhythm is mine.  What I do  know is that both of these internal energies can work well together, and neither deserves pathologizing, although both are designated mental health diagnoses.

The spirituality of compulsion and denial working together has nothing to do with cleanliness being next to godliness, however,  their unusual cooperation seemed a mystery worthy of wonder and awe. When I’d finished my one floor I felt uplifted, enlivened to the roots of my being—not because I did such a good job but because it gleamed and glowed as if smiling at me.

In fact, if God had voice Godde might say, It looks glorious Lyn, nice to reflect my glory, or your own, but remember:  The glory of God is the human person fully alive. 

P.S. Because I’m not insane I abandoned today's swerve into compulsive cleaning too long denied. I had somewhere to go and left it half done with resolve to finish tomorrow. It turned out I didn’t have to because when I returned home Dick had cleaned the other floor. Now that’s godly. 

Sunday, November 10, 2013

2013.11.10 Cyberspirituality—Who Needs Connection?

People today, especially those in my mature generation, tend to say that young folks on their devices all the time aren’t connecting, that what they love to do is not embodied connectedness and therefore doesn’t count.  True— and yet I wonder. I communicate all the time with God and the only body present is mine! 

Here is a wise quote in a book called Radical Optimism—Practical Spirituality In an Uncertain World  by Beatrice Bruteau:

Meditation is a way of meeting God. It is not a matter of thinking about someone who is absent. It is engaging someone who is present, indeed supremely present. It is the realization of this presence that is the main point of meditation.

Well, I thought, is that not what we do when we punch and stroke and spread our fingers like wings over a tiny screen, when we tap keys, tick tick, when we go online and chat delightedly with someones we know and someones we never saw and don’t know, maybe on the other side of the world; when we share photos; when we read blog words and comment?  

Is cyber-communication a form of spiritual meditation, perhaps meditative? Godde know it’s intense,  and God knows it commands total attention and draws one into an almost mystical surround where no one is present and everyone is present at once. I watch device-faces. They light up with fascination, awe, not too unlike the way mystics describe the experience of engaging the presence of Divinity.  Is the internet a metaphor for supreme presence, a way Godde enlivens this digital age?  God knows our fingertips are all over this process, and you know what unique identifiers fingerprints are!

What is the deep longing that allows teens to sleep with their devices on their pillow? Is this the new Teddy Bear?  And yes, I know how violent cyber-bullying can be, using the same devices for isolating someone as for connecting with them. Using a device with love is a moral responsibility.  

The Internet is not God but I wonder if God’s life-giving presence is realized through the process of connection itself no matter how it is facilitated.  Godde works through whatever is engaging human spirit, no?  A housebound friend of mine once told me, “The Internet saved my life.”  She follows and she clicks and she feels accompanied and alive.

It would be easy to label all this device-intrigue the latest addiction. But that I believe would be cheap. It’s a phenomenon I can resonate with sometimes when I’ve writing or when I sink deep into prayer. I get so drawn into the flow of the words that we kind of merge. I’m me, and not. So who’s here?

The biblical God gave Moses some creds before he headed off to Egypt on a dangerous mission to confront the powers and demand freedom for the Israelites at God’s behest. Whom shall I say sent me?  Moses asked. Godde said:  I AM, Ehyeh..... (sounds like a Mainer ;0)  The elusive Hebrew language is, well, elusive!  But one translation I read has God saying: I AM I AM. 

When we choose life, no matter how difficult, it’s the mystery of pure BEING, I am I am, felt both from within and without, who summons us forth and gives us hope no matter what.

Have I gone too far? Oh, of course. But I wonder.  Is the spirituality of this digital age realizing a presence for its own sake and by its own means?   I don’t know but it surely has many people hooked and exhilarated and fully alive.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

2013.11.06 Ironies of Aging

I’ve taken serious notice...............

The more I need my adult children, the less they need me.

As I walk along the sidewalk I spot a flattened used condom and feel a quick charge, a spark of youthful vigor remembered, then, as quickly as it’s come, it goes, and I know I’m content with the spark I have now. 

I’ve always prayed for and wanted my children and theirs to love and connect with each other. Now that they are doing it, I’m happy—and lonely, no longer the center of their lives, which is a good thing.

If a married couple can make a bed together without suicide or homicide, you know the marriage will endure, or has endured.

The closer I get to the end of my life the more affection I have for beginnings, especially the great beginning when God fell upon the unformed but not inert substance of matter. Together they made something new and beautiful, just for the loving hell of it.

The only thing I dread more than getting older is getting younger. 

The more in love I fall with my spouse the less interested I am in sex. Warm presence is enough.

The shorter my memory stretches, the further back it reaches. On the other hand, I don’t remember what I’ve forgotten nor do most of my contemporaries and my spouse. Hence repetitions aren’t annoying except to younger brains.

The more I laugh till tears squeeze out the less I cry myself to sleep.

The older I get the less seriously I take theology, and the more seriously I take Divinity, named God/Godde to me. Here’s a Tom Robbins( author of Still Life With a Woodpecker) quote: "Twenty candles on a cake. Twenty Camels in a pack. Twenty months in the federal pen. Twenty shots of tequila down a young girl's gullet. Twenty centuries since Our Lord's last pratfall, and after all that time we still don't know where passion goes when it goes."

And we still don't know who's coming to dinner?!  Every damn Sunday Jesus comes to dine and we still don’t know.

When your husband tells you he dreamt last night that he was trying to teach Jackie Gleason how to use a computer. And between gulps of laughter you ask, “So, how did it turn out?”  And he says,  “I don’t know, I woke up. The computer wouldn’t obey my commands.”  Thus you know you are old, out of control, and happy as hell.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

2013.11.03 The College Essay—and Beyond

Well, I never thought I’d be saying such a thing but in the spirit of the blossoming teenagerhood of Gillian, a seventeen year old granddaughter, plus my own memories, I’d say poetry rocks—mostly because it's not in itself an achievement but rather an inspiration.

This summer I was excited when Gillian told me she was interested in poetry. Excited might be too mild a word. How lovingly narcissistic it is to see a grandchild take a direction that feels like yours.   Grampy and I introduced her to David Whyte. We sat together on the couch and watched a TED talk by Whyte. Later in the bookstore Gillian asked if I'd heard of "this guy." It was Pablo Neruda and she bought a small book of his love poems, which she read three time over during the rest of the vacation time. I asked her if she wrote poetry herself and she said yes, but not the public kind.

I remember the non-public poetry I wrote at 17—dramatic existential blasts and blurs when life felt big and bold and intriguing and terrifying and I wanted to swallow it all whole.

Gillian has her own drama of course but I was delighted when her proud mom sent me her college essay which begins with a poem of her own, and a good one. She felt relieved it was “over with now.” I’m near-70 years older and I know it's only the beginning of her unfurling as a beautiful young woman with a blossoming gift for using bold words to tell her heart. She gave me permission to publish her work on my blog and I do so with pride and a few sweet tears......................

Caught in the in between,
Can’t decide between you and me.
If I stay,
My world washes away,
If I go,
You’ll be the first to know.
We’re like fire and ice
You’re the fire
I’m the ice;
You melt me
To where I am almost nothing,
I never let anyone in before
But you,
You melt me to the core.
I let you in,
You burnt a hole through me.
They say opposites attract,
But mother says it’s never good
To play with fire.

My love for poetry started a long time ago.  The first time I remember thinking about poets was in elementary school when my teachers would read Doctor Suess; and in middle school Edgar Allen Poe. I had always loved the fact that words can be transformed to rhyme and make a rhythm so profound that you could fall in love with just a stanza in a single poem. It was only until recently that my own inner monologue started to talk to me in different rhymes and rhythms.

Ever since I was a young girl I have been drawn to and loved music as well. Whenever I listened to music the lyrics would pull in me in leading me to write all over my desk with song lyrics and little poems made up in my head.  Over time I switched to pen and paper and now have multiple notebooks with different poems and lyrics, and they get longer and better as written products.

I like to write about love. I have read Pablo Neruda’s Love Poems about 10 times and ever since then, it’s all I want to write about.  The fact that I have never been in love may add to the fact that I love the idea of being in love. That said, maybe I have found love in Neruda’s poems. In David Whyte and Robert Frost, I have fallen in love with places and people I have never met or seen. Maybe that’s why poems sometimes seem so cliché - perhaps I need a better outlook on life than that which is written in black and white.

I wanted to share this poem because I believe it is one of the best I have ever written. It came to me in about ten minutes and I didn’t have to change a thing. I have never taken a poetry class before, but I would love to. This poem and the ease with which it came to me marks a time in my life when I just simply knew I was no longer a little girl.  I realized I’m growing up and am a young woman with deep thoughts, intelligence and a creativity I’d only once imagined I possessed.

Going to college is important to me for many reasons but mostly because I know it will open my mind and heart to new ways to write and think about life and my future. I am all about opening my mind to new experiences and new beginnings, and that’s what I’m really hoping college will give me - a chance to explore. I want to find out who I am, and I think leaving home and being on my own will help me do that.

             ©Gillian B. Colbath, 2013, printed with permission.

God bless you on your way, Gillian, my chica, with life abundant and the courage to believe in yourself and the wonders of poetry.  And bless Dr. Seuss whose creative imagination did away with the abysmally boring Dick and Jane reading primers I had to learn to read by.  As one of your uncles said, you "will do wonderful things."

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

2013.10.30 Book Review. God's Hotel.

For my beach reading last summer I’d Kindled God’s Hotel by Victoria Sweet, M.D., PhD—hoping to read about how God practiced (was intimately involved with) medicine, maybe in a hotel? I wasn’t disappointed. Let me explain.

The bishop who ordained me had recommended the book. He’s a Gutenberg man who is rarely wrong about his books. God’s Hotel, published by Riverhead Books in 2012,  is a page turner. I finished it before I even got on vacation and to the beach, which was okay because, although my Kindle is named Fire, its glow doesn’t provide enough light to compete with the glare of brighter beach sun.  

The title comes from the French, Hotel-Dieu (God’s hotel, literally God’s hostel) the name for any charity hospital that cared for the sick in the Middle Ages.  Right away we get the flavor of ancient history.  A reader will learn about premodern medical practices and something about the utterly unimagineable mercies of le bon Dieu for the sick and the poor, poverty being a social disease. The book, to me, portrays medicine as ministry.

Because Dr. Sweet worked in an almshouse, Laguna Honda (sounds like a car dealership) she was able to practice what she called slow medicine. She had the luxury of time: being able to work part-time, spend an hour for a patient intake, and read Xrays on site herself!  Paradoxically, the penniless received top notch medical care for nothing. So much for idle assumptions about inferior care in clinics for THE poor. Such stereotypes are conditioned mostly by social shame and shaming.

In most religions God’s care is free— just like Laguna Honda’s was.  

Slowed down medicine was good for the doctor as well as the patient. Sweet learned she wanted to be herself with her patients, not so distant and guarded about professional boundaries. There was more time for relationships, a bit of humble mutuality without compromising her role or risking her patients’ emotional health. 

It would be easy to dismiss this by saying she knew these patients couldn’t sue her so it was safer to drop her guard a bit,  but that would do a disservice to this physician’s integrity, much of which she learned from patients. She recalls us to the spirituality of medicine through the cases she chooses to share, as well as her own evolution as a physician.  

God’s Hotel opens with an autopsy, the author’s first. When the face of the dead person is exposed Sweet suddenly recognizes one of her first-ever patients. It was Mr. Baker but it wasn’t Mr. Baker—really.  Where was Mr. Baker?  Spiritual questions immediately confront author and reader. What does and did medicine have to say about such obvious concerns?

Reading, I remembered my first—and last— autopsy. Autopsy comes from a Greek work meaning “eyewitness.”  It’s easy to see why this word evolved: no organ is left unexamined, no gall bladder unturned.  It went along all right until a hand dropped from beneath the sheet that covered the body and I jumped.  This was a real person, or had been a real person, or might be a real person—a woman I could tell from the hand alone, a woman who had lived and breathed, and was warm, and said “Hi.” It was such a startling revelation that we chaplain trainees covered up our nervousness with giggles, of all the adolescent responses!  

You grow up fast when you see the totality of death, when you know there is absolutely no life there at all.  And you wonder just as Sweet did, just as the early Jesus followers did. I bet they also used some gallows humor to cope.

After her autopsy viewing Sweet wrote: “I did tuck away in the back of my mind the image of his dead body as a crumpled suit of clothes, abandoned in the corner of a sterile white room.” Later she discovered that  premodern medicine did have words for what was so shockingly absent: spiritus (rhythmic breathing) and anima (soul). Medicine is so physical—and so not, all at once. 

Take Mr. X , a man who sat around all day every day looking blank and thinking nothing—demented (de +mentis, without a mind.) Mindless!  Absent? Yet one day Mr. X heard the music of Glenn Miller, his era, and very slowly he arose from his chair and began to dance, and dance well. When the music ended he sat back down, blank as usual. What IS a mind anyway? A soul?

The medicine of Christian mystic and saint Hildegard of Bingen, one of Sweet’s specialities, is interwoven into modern practices. Hildegard’s remedies are common sensical, sophisticated, and grounded in her religious faith and prayer.  You’ll love reading about  Dr. Diet, Dr. Quiet and Dr. Merryman.  

Dr. Sweet’s patients tell astonishing stories of deep truth, just like the gospels. Readers also get to walk with Sweet on the famous pilgrim’s walk to Santiago de Compostela in Spain, and follow the politics of medicine as it has evolved from the practice of medicine to the delivery of healthcare. The book is mystically empirical. 

Laguna Honda finally is moved and modernized, however its soul will linger on because of this lovely/loving book, and because Sweet leaves us to wonder more than answer. She is currently an Associate Clinical Professor of Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. Her students are lucky.

I have only one reservation about God's Hotel: you might have to re-read it to digest it well. I’ve bought myself a good old reliable paperback so I can dog-ear and mark up as I do with books too chuck full of wisdom to read once. 

Sunday, October 27, 2013

2013.10.27 Prayer is Poetry and Poetry Prayer

"I'm not very good at praying, but what I experience when I'm writing a poem is close to prayer. I feel it in different degrees and not with every poem. But in certain ways writing is a form of prayer.”

Denise Levertov (1923-1997) wrote the above quote, along with the beautiful poem below. She was born in England, served as a civilian nurse in WWII, and published her first book in 1946 after which she came to America.

I get the prayer/poem connection.When I write I am drawn into the process as if I were a deer and the computer screen bright headlights.  I’m not dazed or in a trance.  I’m just engaged with something so much bigger than I am and with so much fascination I forget that it’s me doing it.  Some days, not all, it can seem as if words write themselves. I wonder if that’s how Godde created— electric with the fierce runaway energy of mutual potentiation. Deep prayer, when I let it happen, is just like that: I become We.

Levertov intuits this kind of connective mystery, a natural, near-quotidian holiness that does not dissolve.

Come Into Animal Presence (1961)

No man is so guileless as
the serpent. The lonely white
rabbit on the roof is a star
twitching its ears at the rain.
The llama intricately
folding its hind legs to be seated
not disdains but mildly
disregards human approval.
What joy when the insouciant
armadillo glances at us and doesn't
quicken his trotting
across the track into the palm brush.

What is this joy? That no animal
falters, but knows what it must do?
That the snake has no blemish,
that the rabbit inspects his strange surroundings
in white star-silence? The llama
rests in dignity, the armadillo
has some intention to pursue in the palm-forest.
Those who were sacred have remained so,
holiness does not dissolve, it is a presence
of bronze, only the sight that saw it
faltered and turned from it.
An old joy returns in holy presence.

Oh,by the way, no one is good, or bad, at praying.  

Thursday, October 24, 2013

2013.10.23 Salman Rushdie: An "Exile" Speaks

The key note speaker at this year’s annual Boston Book Festival was Salman Rushdie. I hadn’t read a word he wrote but dimly remembered the controversy about his 1988 book The Satanic Verses: hot accusations of blasphemy and the bearded face of the fierce Islamic cleric, Ayatollah Khomeini, spiritual leader of Iran. 

Ignorant and secretly loving the idea of hearing someone who, like Jesus the Christ, had been accused of blasphemy and survived, I squeezed, with my husband, Dick, into a side pew in the huge and packed Old South Church in Boston.  

The “address” was a conversational interview with Homi Bhabha, professor of English and American Literature at, where else, Harvard. Bhaba spoke of Rushdie’s memoir, Joseph Anton which details the “afterlife” of Khomeini’s fatwa against Rushdie.

A fatwa, I looked this up, is an order of execution. Rushdie spent several years under police protection in the UK where he was a citizen and had lived for years.  “The police kept telling me it would be all right, over soon, but it lasted 12 years.” Rushdie remarked. He considers himself to be an “exile.” He felt locked out, though the furor was about his book.  

It is interesting to consider just how much separability there should be between an author and his/her writing? Not much I reckon, especially if the words, characters and driving rhythm of a book dethrone a religious hero. Some shrug it off, but extremists get violently defensive.

The British in time broke diplomatic relations with Iran and knighted Rushdie who now lives in NY City—mecca of publishing. He has in fact spent most of his life in the West but he writes about the East, his heartspace.

Most of us have felt like an exile from time to time: in a relatively safe comfort zone but with certain restrictions, which can be emotional as well as physical. At times I felt locked out of the "country" of my first family, and it has been so in my Church as well. The longing to belong can feel almost feral. Where? How? When? This is Rushdie's passion and his work. He's married to it—obviously since the man has had four wives. 

There is a lot more to this complex story. (Check online.) But what stood out for me was Rushdie’s adamance about not adopting the “security view” of the world, which he said was of necessity based on the worst case scenario, such as if you cross a street you might be hit by a car, so we tell you not to cross the street. That was of course an exaggerated example, but I wondered if I would cross against a red light if there were no cars around and it was 5 a.m.in the morning. Probably, I’d sit there till the light turned green. And I'm not Ms. obedient.

“You cannot buy the security vision of the world, because if you do you can’t have liberty. Don’t buy it!” He's not from New Hampshire, Live free or die, though he credited America for "giving me back my freedom." Salman Rushdie has enjoyed both safety and freedom and has not died for either.   I imagine he doesn't think much of Homeland Security. 

People push different envelopes. It depends on what rules and the stakes. I’d love, for example to eliminate all the masculine pronouns we keep on using for God, but I don’t want to be “exiled,” to say nothing of really hurting someone’s sensibilities.  It’s the old question about how to balance pastoral sensitivity and prophetic action for change you believe is necessary. What ditch will you die in?   If I’m going to “die” for a vital cause, I want someone with me in the ditch. 

 Rushdie advocates for religious reform and moving beyond traditionalism in religions.  "Broadmindedness is related to tolerance; open-mindedness is the sibling of peace." 
 I agree but Rushdie is a self-declared atheist and I am not.

A man in the packed-church audience identified himself as an atheist and asked for advice on how to co-exist as a non-believer amidst believers. Rushdie didn't really answer, but said, "Well, you can console yourself with the thought that you're right and they're wrong."

I thought his tone was tongue in cheek but I felt annoyed at the attitude. I mean, here we all were in a Christian church. Okay, I felt defensive, but I thought his tone sounded as arrogant as the attitudes of the traditionalists he preaches against. Probably a slip of ego. More importantly, I’m sick of all religion(s) getting lumped in with the excesses of extremists in any religion, including atheism, as if they all were the same.

Imagine the hubris of thinking I could defend God. But what else do you do when you're in love? 

Sunday, October 20, 2013

2013.10.20 What the Church Needs Now?

The song says: “What the world needs now is love sweet love.”  We always need love; it’s the garment of our existence, the force that keeps us alive and helps us put one foot in front of the other, even if, and when, we have lost our footing. The Church of Jesus Christ preaches unconditional love. What we need is to ease up on the many conditions we place on that Love.

What the church perhaps doesn’t need now is to abandon its own language and identity.  The Church does not need to go secular in order to attract people to its message; does not need to derive wisdom from the world of social psychology or the field of consultants and then couch it in theological language to make it seem religio-spiritual. Such dazzling endeavors may be good for marketing and sales, but they can also be temptations of self-betrayal, sell outs. 

A clergy colleague recently expressed amazement that the young people in her parish coming for a Confirmation class, likely under duress she imagined, were not interested in discussing contemporary issues of their age group. They were interested in God. Surprise!

These teenagers, 15-18, felt as if they were drowning in a kind of existential loneliness and they wanted a structure to put faith into, and a language to express their soul’s deep hunger, and some meaningful ritual that would take them beyond what is offered by Facebook communications, electronic games, sports, academics. They weren’t interested in talking about their sexuality or their addictions or even all the angst about parental divorce in their lives and those of their friends. 

In short, these teens wanted God and God-talk.  

They wanted what the church offers:good people, good theology, spiritual practices, song and psalm and gospel, Bible, ethical guidance, and listening hearts. They really wanted to follow Jesus and love God and feel more secure in how to do that. 

The priest who met with them told me that there was particular interest in the baptismal covenant, something Christians all know by heart and have recited many times over. Has it gotten flat, irrelevant?  The baptismal promises are a very solid Code of Ethics, a covenantal structure to frame conversations about talk about God and basic Christian attitudes and behavior.

What does it mean to respect the dignity of all human beings, to seek Christ in all persons, to strive for justice and peace? How do you do these things?  These were the issues that riveted their interest and conversation. in Church.

The Confirmation class process, it seems to me, provided a model for honest talk, plus support for living up to their Baptismal Code when complex decisions arise. Sort of like the Twelve Step recovery meetings process: no one stays sober alone. Well, no one can be a faithful Christian alone either.

What the church needs now is to give people the best of what if has to offer—with professional guidance, yes, but unadorned with sparkles or glitter. No one is fooled, especially the young. 

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

2013.10.16 Having FUN!

So here we are, Dick and I,  on the new carousel at the Rose Kennedy Greenway in Boston.  You really don’t need a grandchild to do this but it helps if one is along for the ride. Such joy!

I sought out the owl, my totem, and Dick sat on the animal next to the owl. His totem is a stallion but there were none. “”I wanted to make sure I got one that went up and down while it went around,” he said. “What am I on?”  “A skunk,” I said and we howled. 

This carousel is unusual. It has no horses, just an amazing array of 14 non-stereotypical carousel  critters—three types of butterflies, fox, lobster (think Gloucester), seal, skunk, falcon, whale, owl, grasshopper, sea turtle, sea serpent, and a beloved cod (think Cape). The project was the dream-child of Amalie Kass who wanted fun activity for Boston children and was the chief donor for the project.  Boston school children identified and created drawings of local and regional animals from which artist Jeff Briggs designed the colorful carousel steeds.  

My mother, herself quite a child for many good emotional reasons, but also because of her extroverted hyper-cheerful personality, so different from my more introverted serious one, turned FUN into an art form. It made me a bit shy about fun. 

I guess our ideas of what fun was were divergent. For Mom it meant doing things, going places, activities. For me it meant inventing games, curling up with a good book,  writing a bad but heart-thumping poem, giggly conversations with girls, exploring city apartment house basement crannies, making up stories about teachers, creating outdoor forts and rituals, and dancing (clumsy leaps) flailing colorful scarves and shawls to Strauss waltzes.

I traveled the world of my imagination and Mom was a social butterfly. As a child I wished she would alight. This carousel is just the kind of project Mom would have rejoiced in. Next time I go I will ride on one of the butterflies in her memory and in her honor—and have FUN.

Whatever way you have fun it's spiritual when it makes you feel alive —alive-O!

Sunday, October 13, 2013

2013.10.13 Hope Speaks Softly (But It Does Speak)

Is it possible that Empathy is the quality of being human and divine at once, and that empathy will save the world?

Look left to see an image created by artist Johnny Carrera. The image is entitled "Empathic Resonance" and is clustered with other images penned onto sailcloth which hangs as if strung on a mast.

The lovely title of Carrera's whole exhibit is "Hope Speaks Softly (But It Does Speak). Hope is my favorite spiritual gift. Hope is neither naive nor wishful. Hope is clear-hearted and mindful partaking of the divine. 

Carrera's artwork was on display at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (the Mass MoCA) in North Adams, Mass.—a field trip not to miss.  

I was drawn to this little porcupine holding onto a string at the end of which hovers one lone star,  covered with what looks a great many of the porcupine's quills. I stood and stared at this image for some time and called my husband over to see it. He was less fascinated than I was, but that's the way the Spirit often works. We don't all get touched by the same things at the same time—except sometimes.

Gazing at the empathic porcupine I thought about the time when Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor was being screened at congressional hearings before her appointment as an Associate Justice to the U.S. Supreme Court in 2009.  Controversy arose and critique because Sotomayor identified empathy  as one of the qualities that makes a good judge. Why fear empathy? Maybe too soft, too womanish?  

Me being me, I thought of the New Testament's reporting of Jesus' famed Sermon on the Mount with its radical teachings, such as "if anyone takes away your coat give him your shirt also." But then Jesus ends with: "Do unto others as you would have them do to you." (Luke 6:31)

This empathic porcupine still had some quills left for protection. He or she did not send ALL the quills to the naked star above, just enough to show he understood what it might feel like to be alone and undressed. The image of course could mean many things but that is what it said to me.

Perhaps God doesn't demand or command regular radical martyrdom but that you do in fact what you would have someone do for you? Give me some of your quills, some shelter, some money, some food, some of what you have until I can get on my feet, and if I can't, keep on sharing your quills and get other quilled critters to share theirs. Thank you.

Such decisions, I know aren't easy and require empathic resonance. 

Yet, how else does Hope speak?

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

2013.10.09 Why Words Matter

Sticks and stone can break your bones, but words can break your heart. 

Last week I went to a daylong conference called Why Words Matter:Expansive Language and Liturgical Leadership. The day was jointly sponsored by Episcopal Divinity School (EDS), Sacred Threads (Regis College), and the Massachusetts Council of Churches (MCC) and attended by some 50-60 people, which was not a bad attendance for a beautiful autumn Friday in October. 

The Rev. Laura Everett, Executive Director of MCC opened the day telling a bit of her story of coming into Christianity. “I'd accepted a savior I somehow couldn’t be,” she said. Everett recognized the efforts made with inclusive language in the mid-70s. (Yes! I remember those efforts well.) She said that there were no women heads of churches, non-liturgical denominations she must have meant, because the Episcopal Church has women bishops and a woman Presiding Bishop. It’s worth noting  that on October 5, 2013, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America installed its first woman Presiding Bishop.

Nevertheless, Everett noted, liturgical language, the language of worship, still divides the Church. I’d say it’s time to look at the language issues again and was grateful for the re-start of this conversation.

The Rev. Dr. Stephen Burns, a presbyter of the Church of England who teaches worship at EDS, cited two dynamics at work in this renewed conversation. “It’s a different conversation from former conversations.”
CONTEXT. Expansive language means that our language system is ever expanding, an emergent design, you might say. It advocates that we must be aware of the worship context of liturgical space,  styles of worship, and practices. In other words, just changing language without awareness of the culture of a worshiping community could be too superficial and a naive strategy at best, a manipulation at worst.  
JUSTICE.  Consider the “other” when we use language to dismantle oppression. For example. how do we speak about our hierarchies? Erasing patriarchal language ought not to erase the history in which we are embedded. Burns said he eliminated all exclusive language, like addressing God as Father in his personal prayer life. “But then I had a son, and I was a father.”  Nothing can ever be either/or, I guess.

“Our prayer will carry us,” Burns said. 

There is no question that the whole issue is emotionally charged, and pastoral sensitivity is required.  Thoughts and ideas:  One hymnal provides both normative texts and new ones. Options are offered. Being uncomfortable is not the same as being unsafe. Traditional language also has the power to transform oppression and attendant feelings.  Think immigrants on a foreign soil. Think Israel in exile in Babylon.

An Episcopal lay woman, on the ECW executive committee, shared how “unsettled” she felt when she went to her granddaughter’s wedding recently in a yoga studio (context) and the celebrant presided at a Eucharist that had two settings/servings, one of bread and wine in honor of Christ, and another of honey and milk to honor Sophia. “I felt slapped up side the head,” she said and added that her shock motivated her to come to this day.  “Who is Sophia?”  This courageous woman was shocked and de-centered, yet willing to learn. Brava!

Inez Torres Davis, ELCA, commented that when speaking to the privileged one needed to include them with their pain and questions about tradition, heritage, and identity. “We are saying there might be another way, and everyone must be welcomed into the conversation. The purpose of the Divine after all, is healing.”

It is clear there is much more to do together.  The National Council of Churches Justice for Women Working Group has a “Words Matter” site (http://wordsmatter.org)

I was grateful for this day and all the participants. My small group at table #10 had a good time and some chance to talk about Sophia, Spirit of Wisdom, as well as our own practices and feelings. I went away well fed and eager to keep going, also wondering why no one mentioned the darn English pronouns —except me of course:0)

I leave you with a story to treasure. A Lutheran woman told the plenary group that when she was a child she’d wondered about the road to heaven being a “narrow gate” as Jesus said. She’d concluded: “Well, maybe God was very big so the gate just seemed very narrow to God.”

And a little child will lead them. Now who said that?

To come back round to my broken heart, strong language for the way I feel often whenever I hear masculinizing words for God, for Divinity:  broken heart language is strong because I have said and heard such words over many years, and as a priest, I often have to say them to be sensitive to my community context. I omit pronouns when I can and dodge the He-Christ by saying Christ instead of He.  Thus, my joy that the conversation about expansive language is being re-invigorated. It's kairos time.

You see, God met me under a table when I was a small child and I gleaned from that Presence, not only that God mattered but that I matter. Hence words matter, too!

Sunday, October 6, 2013

2013.10.06 Rosary Prayers

“There are not enough rosaries to cope with living with you,”  So said my beloved spouse in a moment.

“I’ll buy you a new rosary,” I said and then broke down into such a fit of laughter I couldn’t control myself, which caused mister exasperated to break up too.

And so ended the spat, whatever it was about anyway. Splotch anything with clear laughter and it will turn to glory.

Rosaries are in fact very helpful coping tools with added spiritual benefits. Anglicans use rosaries as well as Catholics. They’re not just for old women to mutter and mumble with; they are a way to calm your self, to center and to refocus the cluster of worries that plague your mind.

The Episcopal prayer book has collections of prayers called Collects, one for every occasion. They’re like rosaries you say over and over. One favorite I pray daily and wherever is:  Most loving God, whose hope is that we give thanks in all things, fear nothing but the loss of you, cast all our cares on you who care for us; Preserve us from faithless fears and worldly anxieties that no clouds of this mortal life will hide from us the light of the love which is immortal, and which you have manifested to us in Jesus Christ our Lord who lives and reigns with you in unity with the Holy Spirit, now and forever. Amen.   (Italics indicate my poetic licentiousness ie. God was Father, hope was will, in was for, and in unity with was and.)

When I went for my first MRI,  I prayed this Collect over and over to redirect any anxieties and not let a big old noisy machine hide from me the light of the love which is immortal.   

Hell, if they’d let me I’d have taken a beaded rosary in with me, but it might mess up my radiological pictures. Besides, rosaries don’t photograph well.


Wednesday, October 2, 2013

2013.10.02 Thy Will Be Done, According to Whom?

Monday evening we saw a film at Episcopal Divinity School. The film is the project of producer/director, Alice Bouvrie and entitled "Thy Will Be Done: A Transsexual Woman’s Journey Through Faith and Family" starring Sàra Herwig along with her mother, her ex-wife, her spouse, her daughter, and her pastor the Rev. Jean Southard. 

The film is a poignant, prophetic and tender witness to the kind of transformation that can happen when a 21st century “david” challenges any contemporary cultural or institutional “goliath.”  No one is left untouched; no one is left unharmed; no one is ever the same. A scene from the video: Sàra and a friend.

My husband and I went because we are both passionate about the ultimate value of spiritual diversity and the wholeness of all religion, particularly Christianity, in spite of itself.

Herwig opens the film with a statement of respect for those who kept her from ordination. "They believe their interpretations of scripture and their understanding of Christian faith is true." The rest of the story is the “but........”

What came through most strongly to me was the amazing grace of the supporting cast:
     Sàra’s mother whose painful perplexity and guilt were reinforced by the men in the family. Mom's love for her child superceded all abuses and all confusions.
     Sàra’s  first wife who married her when she was a man and imagined she could “love” him out of his depression and his compulsion to cross dress. She is now able to say that Sàra is “better” than Steve was, empowered and happier, the “black cloud” gone.
     Sàra’s daughter whose entire perception of reality was “flipped on its head”  when suddenly she had “no Dad.” With help she came to know that her “dad” was the same person s/he always was even if walking into the same public restroom together was “really strange.”
    Sàra’s pastor, the Rev. Jean Southard of First Presbyterian Church in Waltham, MA., whose husband is a cross dresser and an “out” professor at MIT, continued to support Sàra’s sense of vocation to full-time ministry and officiated at her marriage against traditional church protocol. Why? “The Church was not being Christian to her,” Jean said.  Simply so! Charges were brought against Jean Southard but, with legal help and three years of trials, she was acquitted, on a technicality no less: the Presbytery had not yet legally declared the prohibition against same sex marriage for ordained people at the time of the marriage of Sàra and Jen which Jean blessed. Sàra was a candidate for ordained ministry in the Presbyterian church at the time of her marriage.

Massachusetts really messed up lots of stuff!  I'm proud to live here.    

PCUSA (the Presbyterian in the USA)  still does not allow anyone in a same-sex relationship to be ordained, but they are asking for more education on the matter.

Rev. Southard is patient. “Also I’m retired now,”she said with a smile. She holds all institutions loosely and understands that they are made up of human goodness as well as human limitations. Without the church, she noted, who would guard and pass on the treasures of religious traditions?

The film's supporting cast took nothing away from the courage and witness of the main character,  Sàra herself, who traversed the muddy waters of profound personal and institutional change and never gave up on herself or on God.  All these women seemed to me like the women at the foot of Jesus’ cross or those who brought the biblical David along.  They never gave up and never abandoned. They represented the unconditional divine love Sàra had found in a Christian church in eighth grade, and herself never gave up on. They were the image of God in the flesh.  

Sàra Herwig has left the Presbyterian church. She made it to candidacy with a vote of 48 to 24.  Impressive. The vote came after an unusally long, grueling screening process. Sàra prevailed in spite of prevailing attitudes (ignorance really) and comments like, "God made you a man. Pray for healing."

Sàra did pray and felt God's presence still with her. But she was not able to find a congregation that would hire her.  “You have to have a job before you're ordained. It takes guts to hire me,” she quipped, adding, “It all comes down to sex and there is so much more to a relationship.”

I'd say God sees beyond genitalia and into souls.

The UCC (United Church of Christ) has plenty of its own hoops and hurdles but Sàra hopes to realize her ordained vocation in that denomination which has "more promise" for her.  “You can only hit your head against a wall so many times before you split it open. I'm moving on but in my heart I will always be a Presbyterian.”

We keep on keeping on. I did when I was struggling through ordination process in the Episcopal church in the early '80s. And I was just a woman!!  Some days I would question my sanity. I lobby for change and wait. Tempted to leave but I don't.

Sàra and her friends are hanging in too. We sigh and pray and wait. The Church is not useless. It just lumbers and slouches under its own weight until finally it opens up with a giant sigh of relief—then moves along.